You may think of the world of beer brewing as an "all-boys club," but it turns out some of America's favorite beers were developed by women.
Jill Vaughn and Rebecca Reid are two of the top brewmasters at Anheuser-Busch, the leading global brewer that manages a portfolio of well over 200 beer brands and employs 150,000 people in 25 countries worldwide.
Thanks to them we have Bud Light Platinum, one of the company's most popular beers — and some of Anheuser-Busch's more recent innovations, including Shock Top and the Straw-Ber-Rita.
Here's an inside look at how Vaughn and Reid found themselves at the top of their field in this traditionally male-dominated industry, and what their daily lives are like brewing some of America's favorite beverages:
Business Insider: Can you tell me about your career paths? What led you to where you are now, as two of the top brewmasters at Anheuser-Busch?
Jill Vaughn: I think most people would be surprised that we both have highly technical degrees. I studied Food Science with an emphasis on microbiology at Ohio State, and Rebecca has a degree in chemical engineering from Purdue University. I don't think either one of us planned to make a living brewing some of the world's best beers. I thought I'd end up working for a large food company developing new products.
Rebecca Reid: I was following a similar path. As a chemical engineering student I found myself at internships with large chemical companies and was really unhappy. It got to the point that I was really questioning what I'd done and if I'd made a mistake with my major.
And then Pete Kraemer, a fifth-generation brewmaster at Anheuser-Busch, came in as a guest lecturer in my class. It never occurred to me that everything I was learning was applicable to making beer — that there was a true science behind the art of brewing. I didn't corner him after class and ask for a job (I'm actually pretty shy), but I knew that I wanted to work at A-B.
JV: For me, everything changed when I saw a notice on our school bulletin board saying there were job opportunities working at one of Anheuser-Busch's breweries. Before my interview I actually went to the library and took out a textbook on the science of brewing to read on the plane. I brought it to my interview, and they were so impressed that I was taking the opportunity so seriously that I got hired. Now I'm the head brewmaster for one of our growing brands, Shock Top.
RR: And my recent roles include leading our Research Pilot Brewery where we develop new, exciting beers for adult consumers.
BI: Walk us through a typical day at work.
JV: No two days are really the same. We take a very consumer-centric approach to everything we do. Every day really begins and ends with putting the beer drinker first. In our role that means being involved in everything from market research — to see how tastes are changing — to keeping an eye on how chefs around the country are changing their menus, to exploring innovative new ways to make the best beer. We have a highly collaborative culture, and we make a real effort to bring people together to ensure we meet consumer expectations for quality.
RR: And then we need to taste the beer, too!
At Anheuser-Busch there is a tasting that happens every day at 3 p.m. Brewmasters and highly trained sensory experts in each of our 12 breweries stop at that time to taste beers coming off the line to ensure quality and consistency from our beers, no matter where they were brewed. To some it may seem ceremonial, and to the uninitiated it may sound like we're taking a break. But it's the most meaningful way to test the quality of the beer before it goes out to consumers.
JV: Think of it like we're chefs. The best ones take real pride in what they serve to customers and taste what they are preparing to make sure it's up to their standards. That's what we do each day.
BI: What are the three things about your job that might surprise people?
JV: There are probably more than three! I guess the number one surprise may be that some of our most senior brewmasters are women. There's a belief that this is a male-dominated industry, and at Anheuser-Busch it's not. I think people may also be interested in the level of commitment we give to ensure a high-level of quality and consistency in every beer we make.
RR: A third thing that surprises many of my friends when we talk about what I do is the amount of science that's involved. Brewing a truly consistent, high-quality beer that is enjoyed all over the country requires real science and engineering. (This is why we have those degrees!)
BI: What are some of the biggest misconceptions about being a brewmaster?
JV: Most folks would be surprised to know how complicated it can be to make a great beer consistently. It is very exciting to see so many people take up home brewing because it is only through brewing that you begin to understand the blend of artistry and science required to make a really good beer.
You need to balance the two and combine a passion for flavor with a command of the science that drives consistency and quality. And at the same time you need to have strong understanding of consumer trends and preferences so you're making beer that people really will enjoy. It's more complicated than you might expect, but really rewarding, too.
BI: What are some of the biggest challenges you face in your job?
RR: Being a female brewmaster has had more advantages than challenges for me. As a consumer-centric company being able to bring the female perspective to what we are brewing has been a key advantage. We do represent a little more than half the consumers in the world, after all.
BI: Anything else you find particularly exciting about your job?
JV: People might think we make the same beer every day, but that's not true. We are constantly innovating and experimenting. Basically, if there's an ingredient out there that can be brewed, we likely already have. And when it's really good we do our best to share the experience with our customers. To me there's nothing cooler than making some of best-loved beers in the world, unless of course it's getting the chance to brew one that will become the next beer people will love. That's pretty cool, too.
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